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Record crowd takes annual plunge

January 02, 2004|by Richard F. Belisle

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - The largest number of people ever, a crowd estimated at more than 100, jumped into the frigid waters of the Potomac River on Thursday to celebrate the new year.

Members of the Williamsport Polar Bear Club, a loosely organized group that meets once a year at the river's edge at Riverbottom Park, jumped in at noon. It was the 12th consecutive year for the event, said Tracey Bowman, a coordinator of the annual romp in the river.

About 14 members of a break-off group, the Clear Spring Polar Bear Club, jumped into Blairs Valley Lake at around the same time Thursday, said Jennifer Hart, 25, an organizer. That event, too, is expected to become a tradition, Hart said.

This year, for the first time, the Williamsport club hooked up with the Humane Society of Washington County. The event will become an annual fund-raiser, said Paul Miller, the society's executive director.

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"This was the biggest ever, absolutely," Bowman said. She jumped in twice Thursday, once with the main group at noon, then about 20 minutes later to join Bill Wivell, a Washington County Commissioner, who was late getting to the park because of traffic, Bowman said.

"It's a fund-raiser. That's why I came," Wivell said.

Wivell, in a shirt and shorts, was among the more conventionally dressed river jumpers Thursday, along with the folks in bathing suits.

There was an array of outfits, from one guy dressed as a hula dancer to another as Bozo the Clown.

Jamie Roane, 35, of Martinsburg, W.Va., wore a balloon outfit and called himself a Sumo wrestler.

All manner of hats could be seen. Ed Enamaite of Fairplay wore a Santa hat. He's been jumping in the Potomac at Williamsport on New Year's Day for 10 years, he said.

"This is a nice event if you're not doing something else today. Thinking about it is worse than doing it," he said.

Jessica Roney, 48, of Williamsport, a third-time jumper, wore a black T-shirt emblazoned with "Will Power" across the front.

"I need will power every time I do this," she said.

Roney's boyfriend, George Miller, 47, of Nova, Pa., has jumped in five times. Miller's daughter, Katie, 17, took her fourth dip Thursday and her boyfriend, Charlie Hoffman, 17, made his first jump.

"This is the warmest it's been," Miller said. "Two years ago, we had to break through the ice."

There was no official estimate of the water temperature among club officials. Temperature estimates ranged from 38 degrees to 41 degrees.

The high temperature in Washington County on Thursday was 48. The low was 32.

The jumpers lined up at the river's edge at noon Thursday. One carried a large American flag.

Keith Kreuz, 43, of Hedgesville, W.Va., was in the mob with Maple and Mocha, his chocolate labs, in tow. His wife, Sheri, watched on the sidelines, camera at the ready.

"He jumped last year for the first time," she said. "He always heard about it and he always wanted to do it."

Justine Beachley and her cousin, Mariel Beachley, both 12, were among the first-timers Thursday.

"At first it was not cold, then it got really, really cold," Justine said.

"It was fun. We're going to do it again next year," Mariel said.

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